Strep throat is caused by streptococcal bacteria and infects the throat and tonsils, leading to a sudden, severe sore throat. There are several strains of the streptococcal bacteria with strep A leading to the most severe symptoms. Strep throat is contagious, and can be passed to others via coughs or sneezes when the bacteria enter the air in droplets that others can breathe in. If exposed to strep, symptoms usually take 2-5 days to develop.
Common Symptoms of Strep Throat
- Sudden, severe sore throat
- Pain with swallowing
- High fever (> 101 Degrees Fahrenheit)
- White or yellow spots on the back of a bright red throat
Less Common Symptoms
- Abdominal pain
- Skin rash
- Loss of appetite
- Body aches
The treatment for strep throat is usually antibiotics. They not only help with symptoms, but also shorten the time one is contagious, reducing spread of the condition. Those with strep throat can also use an over the counter pain/fever reliever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, but aspirin should not be taken as it can be linked to a more serious condition (Reye syndrome) when taken for strep.
If you experience symptoms that make you suspicious that you may have strep throat, please call the health center for an appointment (most often same day) so we can do a rapid strep test right here in our office. This test involves a throat swab and a few minutes and can detect most cases of strep A and strep B. If negative, a sample can be sent to a local lab for determination whether one of the milder strains of strep are present. Often, the milder forms do not require more than just a few days of pain relief while the body’s immune system fights the bacteria, but antibiotics can be used in these cases as well.
It is important to realize that most sore throats are NOT due to the streptococcal bacteria, but are in fact due to viruses. These viral infections can be just as painful as strep throat, but will not respond to treatment with antibiotics. Because it is not recommended to take antibiotics unless necessary, your provider probably will not prescribe an antibiotic for a sore throat without a positive test result. However, we will encourage you to control your symptoms with pain/fever relievers. Positive test results will be immediately treated. Viral infections that cause a sore throat are often accompanied by other symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, runny or stuffy nose. If these symptoms are present, your provider will be less suspicious of strep throat, and a decision on whether to send a throat culture to the lab will be made. However, a rapid strep test in our clinic will most often be completed.
If you do have strep, it is imperative that the spread of the bacteria be minimal. Besides avoiding kissing and sharing of drinks or utensils, it is important to practice good hygiene (wash hands regularly) to reduce risk. Tissues should be disposable and used once (no cloth handkerchiefs) and discarded immediately. Isolation can be considered until one has been on antibiotics for 24 hours, and the health center staff can assist with informing professors. Please give us a call with any concerns!